Minority historiography: Archetypal Dominic Ozegbe Osademe
Two reliable sources confirm the Biafra-Nigeria war, 1967-1970, as a struggle for minority oil fields. The first is Captain August Okpe, pioneer pilot of Nigerian Air Force, Chief Pilot of Tactical Air Command, TAC, Biafran Air Force and Chief Pilot of Nigerian Airways. In “The Last Flight,” (www.thelastflightbook.com), Captain Okpe is frank, “Almighty oil had been fanning the embers of the war right from the beginning and considering that it is the main source of hard currency for Nigeria to purchase the armoured vehicles and planes, it commanded priority” (p.471).
The second is Professor Lawrence Baraebibai Ekpebu. In recently published “My Reflections on Chief Olusegun Obasanjo,” he observes that “America, under Richard Nixon, was prepared to recognise Biafra if Col. Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu could hold Port Harcourt, the oil capital of Nigeria” (Business Day Sunday, March 25).
One aspect of that oil war not adequately covered, as doing so would rubbish the official hyperbole, was minority supreme sacrifice. If minority diplomats, namely, Ambassadors Joe TF Iyala, BA Clark and General George Kurubo, won the war for General Yakubu Gowon; it is also true that minority men-of-war like the Finima-born ace pilots Captains Ibikare Allwell-Brown and Bara Allwell-Brown, Victor Akan, etc, placed their ingenuity at Ojukwu’s disposal.
Diplomatically, Ojukwu’s spokespersons convinced America that the war was a jihad by the Muslim North against the Christian Eastern Region. President Nixon’s wife was already on the street collecting alms for dying Biafran babies, according to Professor Ekpebu, when the Ijaw-born Iyala, Gowon’s ambassador to America, deftly turned the table. He countered that the war had nothing to do with religion because members of his own Ijaw ethnic group of the former Eastern Region were also Christians even though they supported Gowon. His argument completely defanged Ojukwu.
At the United Nations, UN, Ojukwu’s diplomats again convinced the General Assembly to vote on the Biafra/Nigeria conflict as an international one between two countries. But the Ijaw-born Clark who was Gowon’s ambassador to the UN reversed this arguing that the crisis was purely domestic. He warned the UN not to dabble into Nigeria’s internal matters. The world body backed off leaving Ojukwu to his fate.
In Russia the Ijaw-born Kurubo who was Gowon’s ambassador won a bigger diplomatic victory convincing his host that the war was all about the contestations for minority vast oil fields. The powers that supported Gowon would get a share of the cake when victory was won. Russia simply shipped Gowon its latest Mig fighters. Kindly note: America, the UN and Russia supported Gowon because he was defended by minority Ijaws of former Eastern Region. Hausa/Fulani and Yoruba diplomats could not have done this with the Mark of Cain on them.
Militarily, Captain Ibikare Allwell-Brown was to Ojukwu what Major Isaac Jasper Boro was to Gowon. He actually flew Biafra’s last hostile flight when he and Captain Adindu Njoku left Uga airport in a two-plane convoy to bomb an ordnance depot at Ughelli on 7th January 1970, five days shy of Biafra’s surrender, according to Captain Okpe who was his boss in the TAC. It was a mission that claimed his life because their planes were shot out of the sky on the return trip. Njoku survived but Ibikare died. The only minority thinker to ever recognise Ibikare as a true African hero is Dr. Felix Tuodolo, who in 2017 listed him as deserving a befitting place in the pantheon of Ijaw greats.
Dr. Tuodolo also made an observation worth repeating here, “Two Ijaws were dragged into two opposing armies to slaughter each other. Ibikare was a civilian pilot but Ojukwu put him in the cockpit of a bomber for military duties; just as Gowon took Boro from the death row to the war front. The Ibikare-Boro tragedy also played out among other Niger Delta minorities where youths from the same ethnic group took up arms against one another as Biafrans Vs Nigerians and PDP Vs APC. That has always been our sad tale since independence.”
Another aspect of the war not adequately addressed, being our focus here as it tells the story of our hero Dominic Ozegbe Osademe, was the perceived minority guilt in the eyes of hostile majorities. In handling this topic, we make haste to declare that self-determination is not the exclusive property of the majority. There is no reason why the majority should feel threatened, or betrayed, by minority aspiration. Anyone thinking that the minorities of Niger Delta are contented with the shackles reserved for them by the predatory majorities is missing the plot.
Professor Ekpebu hinted on this in his thoroughly researched and highly recommended “Nigeria: Averting Paradox of Development.” He warned that in the First Republic there was a “negative consensus” among Nnamdi Azikiwe (leader of majority Igbo of Eastern Region), Obafemi Awolowo (leader of majority Yoruba of Western Region) and Ahmadu Bello (leader of majority Hausa/Fulani of Northern Region) to liberate their regional minorities through state creation.
Our founding fathers fully well knew that their minorities desired equity, but were unwilling to make concession. Azikiwe supported state creation for Northern and Western minorities; but never for his own Eastern minorities. Awolowo supported state creation for Eastern and Northern, but never for his own Western, minorities. And Bello was for state creation for Eastern and Western, but not for Northern, minorities. While the fate of millions of minorities hung in the balance, Azikiwe, Awolowo and Bello played hide and seek.
Then one evening Boro said enough is enough. “Year after year we were clenched in tyrannical chains and led through a dark alley of perpetual political and social deprivation. Strangers in our own country! Inevitably, therefore, the day would have to come to fight for our long denied right to self-determination,” Major Isaac Jasper Adaka Boro noted in “The Twelve-Day Revolution.
Anyone engaging the civil war by deemphasizing oil is simply misinforming himself. Was the second Oil War of 2009 fought for One Nigeria or to consolidate the hold on the same minority oil fields that pitted Ojukwu against Gowon?
Dominic (Bull Elephant) Osademe
Osademe, 1918-1968, was a principled pacifist from the Ndoni minority ethnic group. In other words, he was the direct opposite of the combatant Ibikare and Boro as he remained neutral in the war. On 24th May 1968, Port Harcourt fell to Nigerian soldiers. Osademe quietly escaped the burning city with his family to his native Umuonyema village in Ndoni, Mid-Western State.
At Umuonyema he went down with ill health and decided to move in with his larger-than-life father-in-law Chief Celestine Odili, the Ochili of Ndoni. Then on 27th November Ndoni also fell. When the gun smoke finally cleared, Osademe and his father-in-law lay side by side in pools of their own blood. Their gruesome murders were symptomatic of the unwin situation Niger Delta minorities found themselves.
Before the war Osademe had attained unassailable feats as family man, community leader and philanthropist. As the Port Harcourt manager of Compagnie Francaise L’Afrique Occidental (French Company for West Africa), CFAO, he helped many youths in securing vacation and permanent jobs. This for a man who rose from less than lucky background, having lost his father early in life. His greatest asset was his fighting spirit that earned him the sobriquet, “Omeka Enyi Nwa Ogaranya,” (The One that Acts like Bull Elephant, Son of the Aristocrat). The Bull Elephant was married to beautiful Regina, daughter of Chief Odili who was also the biological father of former Governor Peter Odili.
Osademe was smart enough not to rely wholly on his killer-muscles. It was a make of ingenuity that he knew exactly at what point to quit the traditional way of life that involved hand-to-hand wrestling, hard labour and sheer struggle; and cross over to modernism. That was how he got certifications in bookkeeping, principles of account, shorthand and secretarial studies through correspondence courses with the London City and Guild and Chamber of Commerce.
Our unanimous judgement this 2018, marking the 50th anniversary of Osademe’s murder and 100th of his birth, therefore, is that the Biafra/Nigeria conflict that claimed his life and that of his highly revered father-in-law was purposeless. It achieved nothing except to create overnight billionaires, bare knuckle oppression, minority exclusion and endless pogroms. That carnage was indeed a war of solidity fought to solidify the very conditions that gave rise to it in the first place, to paraphrase Professor Wole Soyinka’s autobiographical “The Man Died.”
In the words of Franz Fanon, those who forget their past mistakes are liable to repeat them. Forty-eight years, 1970-2018, after the war Nigeria is more polarized and primed for another full-scale violence. Already, the body count is staggering and the world looks upon Nigeria with foreboding. Our leaders must do things differently to pull us back from the abyss as the flood of refugees, in the event of another civil war, will simply overwhelm the entire ECOWAS region.
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